The Who kicked off a mini-tour of the United States with an energetic show at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Tuesday night, despite having just stepped off a trans-Atlantic flight. It might have been eminently more sober than their many gigs at the Grande Ballroom in the banner year of 1967, but the effect on the audience was as potent (if not mind-altering).
In his more dignified middle age, Roger Daltrey has reverted to the short-cropped, tailored Mod look of his youth, and it suits him. His voice is a throwback as well, with the strong, bright tone he had as a youngster. Daltrey is a master of the controlled yell, and if he's missing any notes on the upper end of his register, we didn't notice.
Wearing the darkest of sunglasses, Pete Townshend is the hopped-up middle-age punk, his arm windmilling over his Stratocaster as he chopped out those familiar magnetic riffs, each of which sparked an emotional memory.
There were a few first-night bumps -- Townshend had to stop strumming right at the beginning of "Pinball Wizard" to change guitars, and Daltrey broke a tambourine (not on purpose), then had to leave the stage at one point to retrieve his own guitar -- but the audience didn't mind.
They are one of the most quintessentially British groups, but The Who bonded with southeastern Michigan in the late '60s, and the bond is steadfast. The members donated their take from the show to two Detroit charities, Gleaners Food Bank and Focus: HOPE, because they wanted to give back to a community where they tasted their first American success, Daltrey said.
The 11,000 paid customers at the Palace will provide a nice shot in the arm for two charities that will be hard-pressed to help people this winter.
"We had our first hit record out of Detroit," Townshend said between songs. "I forget the radio station that played it, but it was a funny little record called 'Happy Jack' in 1967. We got the hit here, and then it spread all over the place."
Townshend also bragged that the best car he ever owned was a Lincoln Continental, "built right here in Detroit."
He recalled that "a guy from the MC5" attended their first Detroit gig, which drew "about 10 people. Maybe 20."
"Then I just found out that we played Southfield High School that year, too," Townshend said, to screams. "That's why we're here," he added at the end of his Detroit tribute. Modestly, they didn't mention that they were donating their fee.
Other musical highlights: "5:15," which had the audience dancing and the band jumping (despite Townshend's complaints of jet lag), "Love Reign O'er Me," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Eminence Front" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."
Townshend's elegiac chord changes, rising majestically, on "Listening to You" at the end of the "Tommy" segment, are a reminder of how, at their best, The Who have always been a communal experience, one that not only entertains, but elevates.